Archive for January, 2014

Rotterdammerung

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on January 31, 2014 by dcairns

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Great screening in the a.m. Thursday here at Rotterdam International Film Festival. NATAN was double-featured with MONSIEUR X, which is a similar funny length and is a documentary about Leos Carax. Carax doesn’t appear in it in any new footage, and so it’s left to his collaborators and admirers to talk about his work amid generous film clips and atmospheric silhouettes evoking the auteur’s dangling-cigarette legend. It pairs up well with our movie, I think. The filmmaker was M.I.A. so I got the q&a to myself.

Hung out a bit with Danny Kasman of MUBI before the show.

As everyone says, Rotterdam International Film Festival is a cool and friendly place. I’m not good at cool and friendly places, without some sort of excuse to start conversations, so after the screening I kind of wandered around in an alienated state afterwards taking pictures of the more bleak parts of Dutch cinemas —

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But then I had the good fortune to opt for the Scopitone Cafe, a free event screening music-themed documentaries and serving beer in a very lovely room —

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And I made a good contact for a current project but also saw THIS AIN’T NO MOUSE MUSIC, a delightful portrait of Chris Strachwitz, who records, releases and ENJOYS American “down home” music.

Afterwards, my photographs were more like THIS —

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The ’68 Comeback Special: Days of Matthew

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2014 by dcairns

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Video stores, those vanished pleasure palaces of yesteryear, used to be good places for picking up bits of conversation, Alan Bennett snippets of amateur movie analysis from the citizenry. I well recall a young fellow handling a VHS of the Christian Slater flick KUFFS and asking his friend, “This any good?”

“It’s alright.”

“Much action?”

“Uh.” A thoughtful pause, and then, helpfully, “He talks to the camera.” As if that were a form of action, or a decent, if weird, substitute for it.

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Several actors were talking to the camera in Cannes films of ’68, and one might guess the influence overall was Michael Caine in ALFIE, whose complicity with the audience makes him a kind of Richard III of shagging. But for several reasons I think the key influence on Witold Leszczynski’s ZYWOT MATEUSZA (DAYS OF MATTHEW) might be THE KNACK…AND HOW TO GET IT (1965) which predates the Lewis Gilbert picaresque bonkathon in having Michael Crawford briefly monologue at us. THE KNACK won the big prize in Cannes that year and so would have been widely seen by foreign filmmakers.

Matthew lives with his sister in an isolated house by a lake in the countryside. He seems to be either a little simple-minded or a little schizophrenically detached — more of a holy innocent than a clinical case one can connect to any actual condition. Like Crawford, his soliloquies are directed out, into the audience, but not consciously at them, so they feel more internal than Michael Caine’s smirking asides. Franciszek Pieczka is sometimes a little too cute in his intimacy with us, but nothing like as bad as his main competitor in the direct-address stakes at Cannes that year, Barry Evans of HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH, a bloke who will long live in infamy.

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Rather than a lot of plot, the film drifts through stunning gray-on-gray misty landscapes as we become more aware of our hero’s instability — he is overly impressed by a heron, is traumatized by a nearby tree’s destruction by lightning (he thinks it signifies that his sister will die or leave him), and is socially awkward around bikini-clad lovelies. These jiggling swimmers are the film’s least credible characters, seemingly invented to show how Matthew doesn’t know how to get to first base even with the most available, seemingly vapid and underclad females. It’s like putting Jerry Lewis in a scene with Monroe: sit back and watch the fireworks implode up the fumbling pyrotechnician’s sleeve.

But this isn’t the film’s point of comparison to THE KNACK. It’s vastly more melancholic, solemn and ethereal (though I always feel the Lester film has an autumnal sadness tucked away somewhere). But it does share some camera movements. Lester doesn’t normally move the camera. Probably less than Bresson. He told me he regards it as showing off. But THE KNACK is like his RASHOMON — he probably had the grips lay out track about five times. There’s a particularly striking moment when Rita Tushingham addresses the lens, not as a soliloquy, but as if it were sexual predator Ray Brooks’ POV. And the camera tracks right into a claustrophobic closeup of her — then cuts back to its starting point and does it again. Three times. It’s a disconcerting effect that throws the whole scene into a conflicted, uncertain state of unreality. Because if this is Brooks’ POV, he is either walking up to her or her isn’t, and if he is, he’s certainly not teleporting back to his starting point.

NOBODY has copied this sequence, that I know of, though Skolimowski’s student film EROTYK, made five years earlier, has something a little similar. Maybe it’s a Polish thing — Leszczynski doesn’t tie it to POV, but he repeatedly tracks straight forward in a scene, then cuts back to where he began. And he shares with Lester a love of the planimetric, architectural view.

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For some reason, he never really tracks in the forest scenes, though — a missed opportunity.

Even the photography resembles David Watkin’s work for Lester, and especially on Tony Richardson’s MADEMOISELLE.

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With its perfectly-composed shots, pervasive melancholia, music by Arcangelo Corelli (which sometimes the protagonist seems to be able to hear along with us, as if the woods were wired with loudspeakers nailed to trees like birdhouses) and haunting, allusive narrative sense (a dream sequence, weird silences and hums, lost time), this comes close to being a masterpiece — maybe it is. I was wary of the ending. As the film neared the 80 minute mark, with little narrative in play, I suspected that Matthew would either do himself a mischief or do it to someone else — characters like him typically do in movies, though in real life this isn’t actually that common. It’s the sane, normal-IQ people you have to watch out for. Sure enough, things don’t end well. It’s portrayed poetically rather than horrifically, and just bypasses the dangerous area of romanticizing this kind of tragedy.

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One of the most beautiful films of its year, and quite unknown.

Meanwhile — NATAN, part 2, over at Mostly Film.

George Cockstone

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2014 by dcairns

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Now that I have your attention…

The film is DR MABUSE VS SCOTLAND YARD — at one point it looks as if it’s going to be, thrillingly, DR MABUSE VS SCOTLAND, as the criminal super-genius is reported to be heading north of the border, but he’s only fooling, and most of the action takes place around a wonderfully touristic German version of London. “Princess Diana” is kidnapped. A bevvy of bobbies are brainwashed. And electronics criminal “George Cockstone” is recruited as Dr. Mabuse’s right-hand man.

Peter Van Eyck, who plays various roles in various of Artur Brauner’s MABUSE sequels — he’s a millionaire industrialist in Fritz Lang’s THE THOUSAND EYES OF DR MABUSE, which kickstarted the whole 60s cycle — plays a British policeman whose old mum does most of his case-solving.

Highly recommended twaddle.

Meanwhile — I’m off to the Rotterdam International Film Festival with NATAN (see you there?) for three days and then off to London for two days, also with NATAN — it screens at the Curzon Soho on Saturday afternoon (see you there?). Hope you enjoyed Lewis Milestone Week+. I may have the odd bit more to say about the old fellow, but not for a little while now.

(Flight isn’t until 6, so I’ll probably be online to respond to comments.)

Aaaand — I was forgetting — BIG article by me, part 1, at Mostly Film — THE MAKING OF NATAN.